Green for Danger: Pinewood’s first post-war film

By Sarah Street

Following Richard Farmer’s recent post on how the Royal Mint established a subsidiary in Pinewood during the Second World War, the story of the first film to be produced once the studio was de-requisitioned sheds light on the ingenious and resourceful ways in which production teams rose to the challenge of making films when materials required for building sets such as hessian, plaster, timber, paper, rubber and canvas were in short supply, and post-war recovery was only just beginning. As the Kinematograph Weekly put it: ‘Pinewood is the mirror of the production industry: in it we can see many of the problems that are going to face our other major studios when they resume production’ (14 March 1946: 12). Pinewood re-opened its doors to companies in the Independent Group: Cineguild, the Archers and Individual Pictures. Individual was a newly formed production company of prolific British filmmakers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and Green for Danger (1946), an adaptation of a detective novel by Christianna Brand, was the first film they made at Pinewood after the war. 

The fiction revolves around a detective’s often rather blundering investigations into some unexplained murders which have taken place in the hospital. Whodunnit? Could be the surgeon, one of the nurses or the anaesthetist. One thing’s for sure, the action takes place within the confines of the hospital, and for this an elaborate set was required. Apart from two brief shots at the beginning, the film was made entirely in the studios spread over two of the sound stages. The work of production designer Peter Proud was remarkable for achieving some amazing results: the creation of a composite hospital set which in the story has been established within the interior of an Elizabethan house requisitioned for an emergency wartime hospital. This plot concentrated action within the hospital’s spaces including a main corridor, several wards, Sister’s office, a large operating theatre, a scrubbing-up room, sterilizing room, hospital laundry, a social hall and adjoining nurses’ rest room, an office, reception desk and porter’s lodge. 

Proud made detailed sketches of the sets in advance of filming, collaborating closely with director Sidney Gilliat to work out the most effective shot constructions. Proud devised several ingenious methods which made filming on this set as smooth and mobile as possible, including making ceilings on runners which could be moved quickly to assist the camera crew. Most of the wall sections were mounted on rollers so that entire sections could be swung in and out of position very quickly. 

To save time the operating theatre set was built twice, each one providing a different viewpoint that the unit could easily capture by moving effortlessly between the two. Proud also used materials in highly resourceful ways such as covering a ceiling by sandfly netting to create a strong, solid ceiling effect but which was transparent enough for the studio lights to penetrate. He used paint rather than plaster on floors to create the impression of concrete and a brick wall effect was made using painted details on glass. Another clever trick was created by special effects expert plasterer Bill Baines who made a bas-relief in plasticine on a glass panel to create the effect of a tower. A report on the film’s production gave the detail: ‘The lower outline was painted to match the lower half of the tower set. Foliage and a cloud effect were painted on a plaster cyclorama, standing behind the bas-relief. The camera crew panned down on a model head’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 2 May 1946: 40). The large number of specialist props including hospital equipment were loaned from the Ministry of Supply. The incongruity of a camera crew in an operating theatre provided some wonderful photo opportunities for reporters, as in this case when the crew took a tea break during filming.

The cinematographer on Green for Danger was Ossie Morris, who recalled difficulties working on the film because Pinewood had started to use American-designed Mitchell cameras which had a different viewing system from the Debrie cameras he was more used to working with. Rather than being able to see exactly what the camera would capture through the viewfinder, the Mitchell camera had its viewer on the left-hand side, away from the axis of the lens and the film gate. This caused parallax problems and particular difficulties in shots which included the five murder suspects even though Morris could only see three in the viewfinder. As he put it: ‘Getting compositions in the viewfinder you have to adopt a whole different approach…You have to make your brain realise you’ve got five people in there’ (Morris 1987). A particularly testing 360 degrees shot came early on in the film when the camera pans across the five possible suspects in the operating theatre, as you’ll see in this extract in which Police Inspector Cockrill (Alastair Sim) recalls the investigation. 

Even though most of Green for Danger was shot inside Pinewood, an exterior flashback sequence to a London air raid required a perfectly clear sky. Gilliat was equipped with meteorological reports by International Meteorological Consultants, a new service recently hired by Rank which provided production units with supposedly more accurate local weather reports than had previously been possible from the Air Ministry. But although the service aimed to save producers time and money, Gilliat wasn’t impressed with its rather inflated claims to super-accuracy (Macnab 1993: 104). On this occasion night shooting was however successful, but the sound crew encountered a problem when some nightingales they’d disturbed started singing into the mike. The Kinematograph Weekly reported: ‘The unwelcome guests were quickly dispersed by a flood of light from an inverted arc’ (20 June 1946: 43). IMCOS’s American director Ken Willard and employment of American personnel were criticized by the Association of Cine Technicians which at the time was pressing for any hiring of non-British studio personnel to be a reciprocal arrangement. IMCOS was connected at that time to Rank’s internationalist policies and post-war export drive even though in the end producers preferred to rely on local weather reports when scheduling exterior location shooting. 

The film was greeted favourably by critics; it did good business at the British box-office and despite distribution problems comparatively well in the USA. For Launder and Gilliat it represented another well-crafted, mid-range budgeted film whose reputation has increased over time (Brown 1977: 120). The film nearly didn’t get made because the British Board of Film Censors got the wrong end of the stick, thinking the proposal would be a literal adaptation of the novel which was set in a military hospital, rather than the civilian facility which featured in the film. Gilliat recalled their reasoning (spoiler alert!) was ‘that any soldiers would be so overcome by the fear of being murdered by one of the nurses that it could seriously affect their chance of recovery!’ (Brown 1977: 120). As soon as they were put right, the production was given the go-ahead, so bravo for Launder and Gilliat. And here they are sitting proudly with the Green for Danger set in the background.

References

Brown, Geoff, Launder and Gilliat, BFI, 1977.

Kinematograph Weekly, 14 March 1946: 12; 2 May 1946: 40; 20 June 1946: 43.

Morris, Oswald, BECTU interview no. 9, 21 July 1987.

Picturegoer, 25 May 1946: 9.

The Royal Mint at Pinewood

By Richard Farmer

The Royal Mint has been tasked with producing Britain’s coinage since the 9th century, and throughout its long history it has been acutely sensitive to the possibility of counterfeiting and forgery. It is therefore ironic that during the Second World War the site chosen for the erection of a subsidiary Mint was Pinewood film studios, where fabrication and passing the artificial off as real were a way of life. Here is the Pinewood site map showing the subsidiary Mint’s location.

The Pinewood Mint commenced work in June 1941 and was located in the studio’s scene dock, delayed slightly by the need to find a new home for the numerous sets it had previously housed. It formed part of a wider strategy of dispersal – that is, moving key industrial infrastructure outside major cities and re-establishing it in supposedly safer places. Pinewood was not the only studio to be taken over; the large size and semi-rural location of many British film production facilities meant that they were requisitioned by government and industry (see Sarah Street, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television article to be published 2022/3). Establishing a subsidiary Mint at Pinewood was intended to allow for the uninterrupted striking of coins should the primary facility in east London be damaged or put out of action by enemy bombs. This turned out to be a sensible precaution: during the war the main Mint was hit by ‘several high-explosive bombs, four anti-aircraft shells, and many incendiary bombs,’ with damage causing temporary suspension of work (Craig 1953: 348). Pinewood was chosen because Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire was thought close enough to the city to be easily accessible, but far enough outside London to be less at risk from the Luftwaffe. Even so, the studios were camouflaged in an attempt to make them less visible from the air, as can be seen in this aerial shot. 

Although the production of commercial feature films ceased at Pinewood during the war, the studio was home to several service film units, including the Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU). The correspondence set out below – which has been lightly edited from originals contained in National Archives file MINT 20/1805 – demonstrates that relationships between the studio’s various tenants were not always entirely harmonious.

On 24 June 1943, Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Mint, J. H. Craig, wrote to the Undersecretary of State for War about recent events at Pinewood: 

About 10 am on the 22nd June, 1943, a mass of high explosive was detonated at a distance of 100 to 150 yards from the premises of the Royal Mint in Pinewood studios, Iver Heath, Bucks, by a Lieutenant, R.E., acting as part of, or in behalf of, the Army Film Photographic Unit … The explosion was not created in connection with military exercises or for purposes of research, but appears to have been a mere preliminary operation intended to lead ultimately to the taking of some part of a cinematograph film to be exhibited, if successful, for entertainment. 

The detritus from the explosion penetrated the roof of the Royal Mint in a number of places, the holes being up to 8 inch diameter, and injected into the premises a great deal of dirt, mingled with flying or falling fragments of glass from the roof. In present circumstances, the damage will be difficult to repair completely. I understand that a neighbouring electric power plant and a shed containing aeroplane parts were damaged somewhat more severely, and that this is not the first explosion of some magnitude which has occurred as Pinewood studios.  

It is realised that the officers employed on each film work cannot be expected to be those of high efficiency, but it is hoped that the Army Council will take such steps as are requisite to ensure that the handling by them of high explosive or other lethal apparatus is so conducted as not to endanger life, plant, or essential work.

The Mint was clearly annoyed to have come under friendly fire, not least because it had come to Pinewood in an attempt to minimise war-related disruption to its operations. More than a month passed before Craig received a reply, sent on 27 July 1943 behalf of the Army’s director of public relations:

Sir, with reference to your letter … on the subject of damage caused to the premises of the Royal Mint at Pinewood studios by the exploding of an ammonal charge, I am directed to express regret that this should have occurred.

A full investigation has been made and in the view of the Royal Engineer in charge, the amount of explosive used was not excessive. It is, of course, difficult to predict with accuracy the precise effect of exploding a charge in the ground, as much depend on the consistence of the earth. In this instance clods of earth were flung further than was calculated, with the unfortunate result described in your letter. 

I am to point out, however, that your animadversion upon the efficiency of the Royal Engineer officer detailed to carry out this work is without foundation. Far from being, as you imply, an officer of a low standard of efficiency, he belongs to a field unit highly trained in demolition work. In the view of this Department no blame connected with this incident attached to this officer or to anyone else engaged on the production of this important film of the North African campaign. That the damage should have occurred is unfortunate, and I am therefore to express the hope that you will accept the apology of this Department.

The manufacture of coins recommenced after a short spell of inactivity. The Mint left Pinewood shortly after the war finished, bringing an end to what wags suggested was the only period in which the studio actually made money.

References

John Craig, The Mint: A History of the London Mint from AD 287 to 1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953).

Sarah Street, ‘Requisitioning film studios in wartime Britain’ (forthcoming in Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 2022-23).

‘Where are the British Shirley Temples?’ The employment of children in British film studios

By Richard Farmer

The issue of exploitative child labour in Britain might bring to mind images of Victorian chimney sweeps and six-year-old factory hands, and might almost as easily be dismissed as having been tidily resolved by a series of mines, factories and education acts passed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, which eventually prohibited the full-time employment of youths of compulsory school age (12 at the time that the Employment of Children Act was passed in 1903, rising to 14 in 1918 and 15 in 1947) or the part-time employment of those two years younger. However, until 1963, laws intended to protect children from exploitation in the workplace made it more difficult for British film producers to employ them in studios, precluding – in theory perhaps more than in reality – the emergence of ‘British Shirley Temples’ (Whitley 1935: 26). This prompted frequent, and frequently repetitive, debates about whether children could work on the films, at what age and for how many hours a day, the impact that such work might have on their education, and even whether the absence of a paying audience watching them perform meant that a film studio (in contrast to a theatre) constituted a factory for the purposes of child labour. 

Daily Mirror, 20 Sept 1935

This, though, was not a matter that the British film industry was willing to accept lying down, and British producers were determined to get children in front of the cameras. There were a number of reasons for this. First, children constituted an important audience, and were believed to want to see themselves represented in British films. Second, they were essential to the production of documentary or educational films, for instance those dealing with neonatal and infant healthcare. Finally, as a report produced in 1950 noted, they were needed ‘for ordinary feature films because without them the British film is unrealistic, in so far as all families would have to be shown as childless’ (Report 1950: ¶155). 

Perhaps most importantly, child actors were often very popular. Such was the box-office appeal of imported child stars like Shirley Temple and Mickey Rooney, and such was the money that they earned for overseas producers, that in 1933 the films section of the Federation of British Industries (FBI) resolved that ‘in the opinion of the British film production industry, it is essential that the employment of children in film studios in Great Britain shall be permitted’ (Anon 1933: 3). Walter Mycroft of British International Pictures (BIP) proclaimed that ‘We must have children to compete with films from the United States’ (Mannock 1935: 2), whilst other commentators noted that French and German films starring children had also found an audience in the UK, and that the production of big-budget pictures were being held up or abandoned because of the prohibition on the employment of children (Anon 1936: 8). The issue of tidying up the laws concerning the employment of child actors was one that that labour and management could agree on, and a joint delegation from the FBI and the Trades Union Council visited Whitehall in December 1936 in the hope of that they might persuade the Home Office to incorporate specific provisions concerning the employment of child actors in studios in a proposed Factories Act (National Archives: LAB 14/396). They failed.

The difficulties associated with engaging children in British studios led to some youthful British actors moving to Hollywood to pursue fame and fortune. London-born Freddie Bartholomew was ten when in 1934 he moved to America so that he might take a leading role in MGM’s David Copperfield (1935). As British law would not have permitted him to leave the country to take up paid work overseas, his engagement could only be confirmed during a suspiciously well-timed ‘holiday’ in New York (Whitley 1935: 26), although Bartholomew’s estranged father almost succeeded in putting the kybosh on the contract by telling the British press that Freddie had been engaged whilst still in England (Behlmer 1972: 73-4).

Child stars moving in the opposite direction could find themselves in trouble. In 1949, 12-year-old Bobby Driscoll, who had already appeared in films such as Song of the South (1946) and The Window (1949), arrived in Britain to make Treasure Island for Disney at Denham. Disney did not seek to obtain the necessary employment permit for Driscoll, in large part because of his age meant that he could not legally be allowed to work in Britain (Deane 1949: 8).[1] Driscoll, his father, and Disney were each fined £100. Treasure Island’s producers reworked their schedule, at a reported cost of $84,000 (Anon 1949a: 17),[2] to allow the young star to complete shooting as quickly as possible, claiming to have ‘too much money involved’ in the film to replace Driscoll and concerned that he might at some point be prohibited from returning to the studio (Anon 1949b: 3).

Disney felt that it, and Driscoll, were being singled out for unfair attention, noting that films featuring or starring children were made in Britain by British companies with little or no trouble, including such near contemporary productions as The Fallen Idol and Oliver Twist (both 1948). Indeed, the premiere of the latter was attended by both cabinet minister Herbert Morrison and Queen Mary, to whom child star John Howard Davies was presented. Evidently, films produced using child actors were not beyond the pale as far as the great and the good were concerned. Nor were they unusual; and some child performers such as Mandy Miller (The Man in the White Suit, 1951; Mandy, 1952; etc.) were able to make a sufficient number of films to attain a degree of stardom.

The legal restrictions on the employment of children in British film studios were therefore clearly not insurmountable. Many British producers simply gambled on working in an occasional child scene, “chancing” the common informer who may come along and denounce them to the authorities (Anon 1936: 8). Concerns about the legal repercussions of such schemes were not ill-founded, and throughout the 1930s filmmakers received summonses for employing children. Three films released in 1935 alone resulted in producers being brought before the magistrates: 

  • City Films was fined 10 shillings for each of the four summonses it received for employing four children under 12 years of age to appear in Play Up the Band whilst the film was shooting on location at Crystal Palace.
  • BIP was fined 10 shillings for each of the six summonses it received for employing six girls under 12 years of age to appear in Royal Cavalcade at its Elstree studio. The company also paid £5 5s. costs.
  • Associated Talking Pictures (ATP) paid 10s 6d. costs to dismiss charges against it relating to the employment of four Boy Scouts at its Ealing studio during the production of Look Up and Laugh. Other summonses for employing children under the age of 12, making children work after 5.30pm and making them work more than 5 hours in a day, were adjourned sine die

A few years later, Mayflower Films received 26 separate summonses for offences relating to the production of Vessel of Wrath (1938) at Elstree. The company was fined £1 for each offence, and £10 costs, despite claiming that the children, who were each paid a guinea a day, had not missed out educationally because actress Elsa Lanchester, who portrayed a mission-school teacher in the film, continued her role ‘off the set by giving … English lessons’ (Anon 1938: 6).

Child actors in Vessel of Wrath

Compared to the sizeable budgets that these films enjoyed, such fines were relatively small and might almost be understood as one of the costs of doing business in Britain. Indeed, for many years the maximum penalty that could be imposed on studios for employing children could not exceed £5 for a first offence or £20 for a second or subsequent offence (Report 1950: ¶24). Added to this was a degree of sympathy for British film producers – children were permitted, within certain guidelines, to appear on the stage or on BBC wireless programmes, so why should work in a film studio be illegal simply because there was no specific legislation that permitted it? When ATP was prosecuted in relation to Look Up and Laugh, for instance, the local council went out of its way to stress in court that although it was bound to report the breach of the law, it harboured ‘no antagonistic feeling’ towards the studio and ‘recognised the difficulties of the film industry in the making of films’ (Anon 1935: 9). 

Each of the four cases mentioned above relate to the employment of children as extras, most of whom would have been in and out of the studio in a few days. However, should a child in a prominent role be forced to give up filming part-way through production, the consequences would have been considerably more expensive, involving recasting and reshoots, and this might explain why many British filmmakers resorted to underhand tactics to ensure that their child stars could work in peace. Whilst claims that children were ‘“smuggled” into studios to film in secret’ should probably not be taken literally (Anon 1950: 5), it tended to be the case that producers held off announcing a child’s appearance until after a film was in the can. Eleven-year-old William Andy Ray’s role in The Mudlark (1950), for example, was not revealed until after shooting ended, in order to ensure that the film could be completed without the relevant authorities beating the door down (Richards 1950: 13). The mistake that Disney made when producing Treasure Island might have been to draw too much attention to the presence of its child star.

Whilst we might wonder whether the post facto announcement of child actors also worked to generate valuable publicity, such subterfuge did tend to be effective; there were few, if any, retrospective prosecutions, and local authorities sometimes found it difficult to gain access to studios to inspect for the presence of children, as the Bateson Committee’s report pointed out in 1950: ‘A justice’s warrant is necessary to authorise an officer of a local education authority to enter premises where he thinks an offence is being committed’ (Report 1950: ¶24). Some local authorities found it easier to ensure child safety in studios by coming to extra-statutory agreements with producers that permitted filmmakers to employ children on the understanding that council officers were able to ensure that a child’s welfare and education was being appropriately attended to (Report 1950: ¶24). Other filmmakers adopted a policy of engaging children as soon as they could legally be employed, and then playing them in roles younger than their actual age. This was a tactic used successfully for many years by Mary Field at the Children’s Film Foundation (Agajanian 1998: 400).

The implementation of the 1963 Children and Young Person’s Act finally provided greater clarity. The Act allowed for the first time the legal employment of younger children by providing local authority with the power to licence the employment of children under 13 years of age in roles where ‘the part they are to act cannot be taken except by a child of about their age’ (s 38 (1)). All children of compulsory school age needed to be employed under licence, and these would be granted only in instances where ‘proper provision has been made to secure their health and kind treatment and that, having regard to such provision (if any) as has been or will be made therefor, their education will not suffer.’ (s 37 (4)). Playing the title role in Oliver! (1968), 8-year-old Mark Lester benefitted from the provisions of the new act, spending three hours on set each day and receiving lessons in ‘a special schoolroom built in the studios’ under the careful watch of ‘two trained teachers’ (Short 1967: 15). 

Mark Lester in Oliver!

Despite the implantation of the 1963 Act, Oliver’s producers still claimed to be wary of announcing Lester’s involvement in their film, citing concerns that they might face prosecution under the Employment of Children Act, 1903. Whilst such claims made for good copy, especially in relation to a film that took the mistreatment and exploitation of children as a central theme, we should also note that during the decades it took parliament to pass legislation permitting the employment of children in film studios, a sense of confusion regarding child actors became engrained within the British film industry. But whilst we should be grateful that children are properly cared for and educated whilst working in British studios, the question of child labour legislation and its impact on film production should also shine a light on the wide range of regulations that affect studio working practices and the lives of all who are employed there.

References

Rowana Agajanian (1998), ‘Just for Kids?’: Saturday morning cinema and Britain’s children’s film foundation in the 1960s,’ Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 18:3: 395-409.

Anon (1933), ‘Child actors’, Yorkshire Post, 7 December: 3.

Anon (1935), ‘Boy Scouts employed in Ealing film’, West Middlesex Gazette, 22 June: 9.

Anon (1936), ‘The £250-a-week child’, John Bull, 11 January: 8-9.

Anon (1938), ‘Child artistes in British films’, Kinematograph Weekly, 5 May: 6.

Anon (1949a), ‘British sustain Disney kid fine’, Variety, 26 October: 17.

Anon (1949b), ‘Boy star loses appeal’, Daily Mirror, 26 October: 3.

Anon (1950), ‘Child film actors move’, Daily Record, 23 August: 5.

Rudy Behlmer (1972), Memo from David O. Selznick. New York: Viking Press. Telegram from Selznick to Sol Rosenblatt, 17 August 1934.

Milton Deane (1949), ‘20th will make at least 30’, Hollywood Reporter, 6 October: 8.

P. L. Mannock (1935), ‘Allowing film children’, Daily Herald, 7 August: 2.

National Archives, Kew: LAB 14/396 – Employment of children in film studios: meeting with representatives of Trades Union Congress.

Report of the Departmental Committee on the Employment of Children as Film Actors, in Theatrical Work and in Ballet(1950). London: HMSO.

Dick Richards (1950), ‘David falls for Hollywood’, Sunday Pictorial, 30 June: 13.

Don Short (1967), ‘Haunting face of the film men’s secret Oliver’, Daily Mirror, 3 November: 15.

R. J. Whitley (1935), ‘Where are the British Shirley Temples?’, Daily Mirror, 20 September: 26.

Filmkinder: Children in German Films

By Eleanor Halsall

Gerhard Lamprecht’s 1931 film Emil und die Detektive/Emil and the Detectives, is one of the most famous German children’s films. Adapted by Billy Wilder from the eponymous book by Erich Kästner, the film was greeted with enthusiasm in Germany where it was described as a ‘knockout’ by the LichtbildbühneEmil’s narrative was always likely to strike a chord and warm the heart: children coalesce as a group to defeat an adult swindler and retrieve the money stolen from a young boy – Emil – that was originally intended for his grandmother. Reviewing a screening attended by a ‘significant minority of children’, Georg Herzberg described the growing excitement as children in the audience wriggled with trepidation and whooped for joy, lost in vicarious pleasure as they watched their peers mete out justice on the screen (Film-Kurier, 3 December 1931). Emil’s narrative endures, having been remade more than eight times for cinema and television, including in Britain (1935 and 1952) and the US (1964).

Source: Filmportal

Child actors will always be in demand and clearly Lamprecht’s film, and indeed many others, could not have been made without them. Herzberg’s description of the young audience’s reaction is a reminder that making films with children demands skills and considerations that do not typically pertain to adults. Unrestrained wriggling and loud expressions of emotions tend not to sit well within the controlled conditions of a sound film studio; whilst thrusting an immature child into the limelight might be psychologically damaging.

How did German studios manage their child actors? Which laws and regulations were in force to protect them? Who looked after their education? How were they chosen and what happened once the film was finished? 

Before 1925 there were no prohibitions in Germany on children working in film; after that date, however, regulations began to be enforced (Dienstag, 38). One of the restrictions introduced in 1925 barred the use of children under three unless there was a compelling scientific or artistic reason. Dr Meyer-Brodnitz, a doctor and industrial hygienist, listed two arguments behind this decision (Meyer-Brodnitz, 45). The first concerned the negative effects of ultra-violet studio lighting on a young child because their eyes lack protective pigment; and, he argued, a very young child would instinctively be drawn to look at a light source. The second reason concerned the potential psychological damage to a child (of any age) in being able to cope with the ‘general irritation and tensions that are necessarily connected with filming’. But Meyer-Brodnitz was also worried that older children might see something they should not, leaving them to ‘carry the psychological wounds received there as so-called complexes for the rest of his or her life’. Given that the majority of German films carried a Jugendverbot, a certification restricting them to 16 or over, this was a fairly common concern.

In 1928, a further overhaul of the laws pertaining to children determined as an area of risk: ‘a new type of child labour … which, although hitherto little noticed, is particularly harmful to children because of its nature… is film work’ (Berliner Tageblatt, 8 August 1928). Comparing regulations in America and other European countries, the article stated that ‘Germany is more lenient. Children between the ages of three and fourteen can be granted permission to film by the police authority, provided that the existing regulations (securing the studio against draughts, keeping to a certain number of hours, etc.) are complied with’. Considering some of the dangers of working in film studios, ‘guarding against draughts’ might seem a relatively harmless risk to cite, until one remembers that the article appeared at a time when films were often made in glass houses. Following the transition to sound film production, the almost hermetically sealed studios became warmer; and by 1955, film studios were described as ‘hot and dusty’ places where children might have to wait for hours until they were required (Zglinicki, 65). 

Some directors had their own methods for protecting the children they worked with. One article reported that Gerhard Lamprecht’s strategy was, as far as possible, to prevent the children in his films from watching the productions they had acted in (Hör Zu, 24-25). Lamprecht hoped that this way they might maintain their innocence and not be tempted to brag about their roles. Two of the children who worked in Lamprecht’s 1954 film Der Engel mit dem Flammenschwert/The Angel with the flaming Sword allegedly complained to him about this ban, but as the film was certified for over 16 anyway, there was little more they could say!

Films with child actors were popular and accounts frequently appeared in the German-language press, with a particular fascination about those who achieved both fame and wealth, such as Shirley Temple and Jackie Coogan. Many European publications typically looked across the Atlantic to find out how Hollywood studios managed their child actors; and Mein Film reported that Hollywood’s 2,500 or so child actors were educated in schools run within the major film studios, with teachers provided by the state of California (Mein Film, Nr. 263, 1931). 

Filmkinder und Schule, Die schöne Frau, Nr. 9, 1930

Whether the number of children in German film studios was significantly lower, or whether Germans expected the children to catch up quickly on any educational gaps, formal school arrangements do not appear to have been made in German film studios during this period. Nevertheless, special arrangements for child actors were recorded for the filming of Träumerei/Reverie (1944, Braun) (BArch R 109-II/47), with Ufa appointing Paula Knüpfer as assistant director for children. Two other examples of Knüpfer’s involvement include Das grosse Spiel/The big game (1941) and Der dunkle Tag/The dark day (1942) (BArch R 109-I/2360); for each film Knüpfer was instructed to support a named child during auditions and filming without any reference to teaching; her pay was RM250 per film. 

Over the summer of 1944, correspondence between an Ufa production manager, Erich Holder and Dr Bauer at the Reichsfilmkammer (RKF, the National Socialist body responsible for overseeing the film industry), reveals the steps taken in preparation for the film Wie sagen wir es unseren Kindern?/How should we tell our children? (BArch R 109-II/52).  Because planned filming dates meant that the children would miss two months of school, Ufa asked the RFK for support in persuading reluctant parents and pedagogues who were resisting the children’s participation. One father in particular was ‘making difficulties … but the boy has a very special talent which is unique in itself and he is also particularly suitable in appearance for the role of Wölfchen’ (Ufa letter dated 12 July 1944). The RFK intervened, writing to the boy’s father: ‘After the most careful examination, the choice of the boy for the role of Wölfchen fell on your boy, who was particularly well liked in the Ministry and should absolutely take the role’ (15 July 1944). 

Elsewhere responses indicate that a degree of absence from school would be tolerated, either based on the child’s performance to date or the stability of the parental home; however one child was reported as ‘sitzengeblieben’ i.e. repeating the school year. Given the prevailing political circumstances at this late stage of the war, however, one might question the extent to which parents and teachers felt obliged to comply with the RFK.

Interviewed by Das Magazin in 1956, Hans Winter, who acted in a DEFA production, Alarm im Zirkus/Panic in the Circus (Klein, 1953), said: ‘During the filming we were accommodated in a home in Königsheide. We had school lessons there, but for me it was not enough to catch up in school later on and take my final exams’ (64). In this particular case, the former child actor had wanted to return to the film industry and regretted this hiatus in his education which left him without the qualifications to train as a stage painter. Although he admitted that filming had been fun and he enjoyed ‘the little bit of a buzz with the other kids’, something of that experience remained ineffable, forever out of reach.

The percentage of child actors who are given a major role has always been miniscule. More commonly, when children were needed for a film, they may simply have been used as extras, working at most a day or two a year. Planning documentation from the 1944 film Vier Treppen Rechts/Four Steps Right, shows that 15 children were needed to appear in two scenes described as ‘Hilde’s Kindergarten’ and ‘Roof terrace’. For their work they were each to be paid a day rate of RM10, hardly a fortune (BArch R 109-II/52, 0173): 

Children were also used for dubbing work: in addition to her own acting roles, Carmen Lahrmann became the German voice for Shirley Temple. 

When a director’s choice falls on Fritz, it is not because Fritz seems the most talented of many or has a pretty face, but because he is the boy the screenplay imagines

Das Magazin, 63

How were children chosen and what became of them once they outgrew their child stardom? Just as Hollywood became a metonym for the production of cinema, so the name of Shirley Temple became synonymous with child stardom. Producers needed child actors and parents dreamed of fame and wealth; or simply another income: ‘Economic hardship has given rise to the idea among some parents …to regard the child as an economic livelihood and to consider his or her artistic gifts and talents as the financial basis of the family’, wrote Mein Film in 1937 (Nr. 594: 14).  In the post war period, the demand for children in films grew significantly with ‘almost every post-war German film having a child’s role’ (Zglinicki, 65). At the same time, cautionary voices were raised against the unseemly rush to stardom which many claimed was harming the children themselves (Zglinicki; Das Magazin).

The most suitable age for film work is between their sixth and twelfth year. After fourteen, their career as a ‘film child’ comes to an irrevocable end, regardless of how world-famous and popular they may have been.

Das Kino-Journal, October 1931

Occasionally, child stars went on to have lasting careers in the film industry; just as frequently, however, the child, having played the required role, is thrust back into anonymity, or chooses to retire from the scene. Traudl Stark, born in Vienna in 1930, was sometimes referred to as the ‘Shirley Temple of Austria’. Her intensive film career lasted six years for eleven films made between 1934 and 1940, during which she (and her parents) were often feted. See image below (source: Bei Prinzessin Sissy am Rosemhügel, Mein Film, Nr. 640, 1938).

Traudl Stark in Prinzessin Sissy

Stark’s career ended abruptly and she had no further involvement in the film industry; at 18 she married and moved to America. 

A handful of German child actors remained in the industry, achieving success as adults, among them two of the children from Lamprecht’s Emil: Hans Richter and Inge Landgut, both of whom had long film careers. Whether some of the others would have continued with their acting careers or not, will remain forever unknown: Hans Schaufuß, Hans Löhr and Rolf Wenkhaus all died during the early stages of the war, a far cry from the joy of Emil.  

References

Anon., Die Bekämpfung der Kinderarbeit, Berliner Tageblatt, 8 August 1928 (6).

Anon., In der Schule der Filmkinder, Das Kino-Journal, 17 October 1931, (5-6).

Anon., Sternchen ohne Allüren, Die Weltpresse, 17 Januar 1949 (6).

Anon., Deutschlands jüngster Filmstar, Heidelberger Anzeiger, 4 September 1936, Nr. 207 (6).

Anon., Mit zehn berühmt – und dann? Hör Zu, 1955, Nr. 3, (24-25).

Anon., Kongress der Kleinen, Kinematograph, Nr. 280, 3 December 1931.

Anon., Filmkarriere für aufgeweckte Kinder, Mein Film, Nr. 594, 1937. 

Anon., Was unsere Filmkinder sich zu Weihnachten wünschen, Scherl’s Magazin, 1930 (1262-1267).

Anon., Filmkinder kommen aus der Mode, Wiener Kurier, 17 March 1950.

BArch R 109-II/47, ‘Besetztungsliste: Träumerei.’

BArch R 109-II/52, ‘Komparserie zu Vier Treppen Rechts.’ 

BArch R 109-I/2360, ‘Angebotsschreiben Paula Knüpfer.’

Paul Dienstag, Der Arbeitsvertrag des Filmschauspielers und Filmregisseurs, Schriften des Instituts für Arbeitsrecht an der Universität Leipzig. Hft. 20. 1929.

Georg Herzberg, Emil und die Detektive, Film-Kurier, Nr. 283, 3 December 1931.

H. H., Lichtbild-Bühne, Nr. 289, 3 December 1931.

Sidney Johnson, Kinder filmen, Mein Film, 1932, Nr. 363, (9-10).

Dr Meyer-Brodnitz, Die Filmkinder im Arbeitsschutzgesetz. Arbeiterwohlfahrt, Volume 5, Issue 2, 15 January 1930 (44-46).  1930-02.pdf (fes.de) [accessed 11 February 2022]

Gertrud Müller, Filmkinder und Schule, Die schöne Frau, Nr. 9, 1930, (14,16).

Jane Catherine O’Connor, The cultural significance of the child star, thesis, 2006.

Jens Rübner, Filmkind unter der UfA-Raute, 2021.

Harry P. Schwittey, Kinderaugen sehen dich an…, Mein Film, Nr. 263, 1931 (10-11). 

Miriam Sello-Christian, Soll mein Kind zum Film? Das Magazin, March 1956, Volume 3 (62-65).

Gertrud Wiethake-Müller, Filmkinder, Das interessante Blatt, 17 April 1930, Nr. 10, (10).

Il ministro Goebbels, L’Italiano (Gazetta de Popolo delli Sera) 3 January 1940 In: BArch R 109-I/5008 (0830), 3 January 1940.

Zglinicki, F.von und Andrés, E. P. Wie komme ich zum Film? Film-Berufsführer, 1955 (65-68).

British film studios and the 1947 fuel crisis

2022 marks the 75th anniversary of the fuel crisis that partially paralysed Britain at the start of 1947. Our researcher Richard Farmer explores the impact that the crisis, and the exceptionally harsh winter that accompanied it, had on British film studios.

1947 proved to be a particularly challenging year for Britain, a country still recovering from the Second World War. Widespread shortages of consumer goods persisted and rationing continued; essential infrastructure that had been run into the ground during the war had yet to be replaced. The Labour government of Clement Attlee struggled to rebuild a damaged country and transition to a peacetime economy whilst introducing the welfare services that it had promised voters in the 1945 election. The ‘sunlit uplands’ promised by Winston Churchill for the post-war period were nowhere to be seen. This was as true meteorologically as it was metaphorically, at least in the early part of 1947 when Britain was subjected to ‘an ordeal by weather unequalled in the long time during which systematic meteorological records have been kept’ (Robertson: 8). Swathes of the country were covered in snow from late January until mid-March, whilst for large areas temperatures did not climb above freezing for much of February, causing domestic plumbing pipes to freeze. ‘Even the basic elements of civilisation are denied us,’ moaned James Lees-Milne upon finding that he couldn’t run himself a bath (Kynaston: 190). The weather made it extremely difficult to move coal from mine to power station by rail or sea, resulting in power cuts – at one point, meetings of the Central Electricity Board had to be lit by candles (Farmer: 27). Temporary factory closures brought about a short-term spike in unemployment. 

The Ghosts of Berkeley Square (1947)

Film studios were, of course, not exempt from these problems. At ABPC’s Elstree facility, sub-zero temperatures meant that it was too cold to lay bricks, halting the process of post-war reconstruction for six weeks, whilst weather-related transport issues made it even more difficult to get construction materials, already in scarce supply, to site (Baker: iv). At the British National studios, also in Elstree, certain shots for The Ghosts of Berkeley Square had to be postponed because the carriage required for them was covered by a snowdrift out on the lot. When the carriage was eventually reclaimed, it barely survived long enough for the shots to be taken – having moved out of camera range for what would prove to be the last time ‘it lurched and collapsed. One axle had rotted through’ (Wallace 1947a: 17). However, it’s an ill winter wind that blows nobody any good, and production company Cineguild, looking upon the snow as ‘a dispensation of Providence’, travelled to Staffordshire to shoot winter locations for Blanche Fury (Wardour: 4). Back at Pinewood, where Cineguild shot interiors for the film, workers took advantage of icy conditions to go skating in the studio grounds (Pinewood Merry-go-Round, Dec: 16).

Blanche Fury (1948)

The problems caused by the weather paled into insignificance when compared to those resulting from a loss of power. Like many industries, by the late-1940s the British film production sector had for decades been reliant on electricity, and any interruption to a constant supply was extremely disruptive: ‘You cannot light a set, run a projector, turn over a sound camera, operate a valve amplifier or develop a strip of film on anything but electricity – colloquially known as “juice”’ (Huntley: 4). With the transport of coal compromised by the weather, and with stockpiles having been run down during the war, many coal-fired British power stations were unable to produce as much electricity as was needed by industry and domestic consumers, prompting a crisis which Kinematograph Weekly (13 Feb: 4), slightly hysterically, claimed made ‘the interference of the Luftwaffe in 1940 seem trivial by comparison’. 

Although production facilities such as Pinewood, Denham and Shepperton generated their own electricity using fuel oil-powered engines, having decided that this would be a cheaper and more manageable source of current, nine British studios drew power from the national grid and so were at the mercy of generators that they had no direct means of controlling. Should electricity supply fail, production stopped. This was something that the producers of Dancing With Crime found to their cost, when heavy snow persuaded them to switch production from an exterior set at Twickenham to a duplicate built on the soundstage at Southall. The unit arrived to find the latter studio without power:

Artists groped around in the gloom to complete their make-up. Then plasterers and technicians gathered in the carpentry shop and warmed frozen feet and hands round a wood-shavings fire. Lights came on just when it was decided to break for a late lunch.

Some filming did eventually prove possible, but the unit lost ‘nearly a whole day’ (KW, 6 Feb: 17). Other studios drawing power from the grid were similarly affected: at Welwyn, the Boulting Brothers were forced to delay starting Brighton Rock, whilst at Islington production of When the Bough Breaks had to be suspended. In some studios, shortages of current put editing tables and sound recording gear out of action, whilst drops in electrical frequency made it difficult for post-syncing equipment to function normally (P. G. B: 14).  As the government introduced schemes to regulate fuel consumption, diverting it away from non-essential uses, filmmakers were informed that shooting at night would be temporarily prohibited as being ‘against the national interest’ (KW, 13 Feb: 3).

Dancing with Crime (1947)

With no power, there was little work to do, and 200 employees at Islington (Hull Daily Mail, 8 Feb: 1) and 700 at Shepherd’s Bush (Sunday Dispatch, 9 Feb: 1) were temporarily laid-off. Studios scrambled to find alternative sources of power. At the Nettlefold studios in Walton-on-Thames, manager W. N. Norris, faced with the prospect of a complete shut-down, secured a large petrol-driven generator from a fairground company. When production resumed at Islington, the rented circus generator provided only enough power for the stages, leaving offices and other non-essential spaces in the dark (Craven: 3). The cost of hiring such equipment could be as much as £50 a day, but this paled in comparison to the £1,000 per day that one trade paper claimed to be the cost of holding up production (KW, 13 Feb: 3).  

The mobile generators were petrol- or diesel-powered – and so were similar to the permanent plant installed at studios such as Pinewood or Denham, which used fuel oil to keep operational throughout the crisis – so circumvented the problems then affecting electricity generation in London and the south-east of England. Gaumont-British’s newsreel for 17 February 1947 concluded a story on the fuel crisis by noting that ‘emergency [generating] plant’ had been acquired that would allow the company to continue its work. This decision, it was stressed, was a public-spirited gesture that had been made so that the production of G.-B. newsreels would not prove to be an additional drain on the national grid. The sum spent on the plant – said to be ‘some thousands’ – indicates that it was purchased rather than hired, suggesting that management saw this as an investment against the possibility of inconsistent electricity supplies for some time to come. 

Mobile generators

The fuel crisis also affected the British film industry more generally. Publication of trade papers such as Kinematograph Weekly was suspended for two weeks in February in an attempt to save coal, prompting some critics to angrily claim that the government was seeking to muzzle the press. More significantly, fuel shortages reduced the amount of film that could be manufactured and processed. Raw-stock companies such as Eastman-Kodak and Ilford received only two-thirds of their normal fuel allocation, dramatically reducing their output (Variety, 26 Feb: 25). This necessitated severe economies in the use of stock, and savings were made by temporarily halting the production of prints for sales overseas, a decision that cannot have been taken lightly given the British economy’s desperate need for export earnings (P. G. B: 14). Processing labs suffered from power cuts, too, and Denham Labs, which drew current from the grid, experienced ‘load shedding’ operations that lasted as long as seven hours (ibid.) and which disrupted processing until a way was found to take power from the neighbouring studio’s generators (KW, 6 March: 6). Producers used to viewing rushes on a daily basis found that they could now only be printed twice a week, forcing some directors to ‘shoot blind’ and necessitating additional money being spent on retakes (ibid.).

The need to find savings of film stock prompted talk – ultimately groundless – of ‘eliminating newsreels’ for the duration of the crisis, and concerns were also voiced about whether enough prints could be struck to supply Britain’s approximately 4,500 cinemas. That didn’t turn out to be a problem, although ensuring that prints reached cinemas could be challenging, as in Bury St Edmunds where some GFD films had to be delivered by sledge (KW, 6 March: 6). Exhibitors had to deal with a downturn in ticket sales prompted by the awful weather, a prohibition on matinee performances and restricted opening hours. Those patrons who did turn up were often cold and frustrated: there was little coal to heat the auditorium – ‘even my goosepimples had goosepimples’ noted one picturegoer (Sunday Dispatch, 2 March: 6) – whilst power cuts could arrive without notice part-way through a screening (KW, 6 Feb: 44). External neon and floodlights were switched off, plunging the countries cinemas back into the enforced gloom of the blackout.

Neither the fuel crisis nor the harsh weather lasted indefinitely. When the thaw eventually came in mid-March, melting snow caused widespread flooding – including at Elstree, where groundworks at the ABPC site were inundated, causing further delays (Baker: iv). Whilst the coming of spring was welcomed by many, there were those who found themselves inconvenienced by the timing of its arrival: Cineguild was caught unprepared, having not been able to complete its winter exteriors, and was left ‘searching grimly for a location in which there are no leaves on the trees and no flowers on the ground’ (Wallace, 1947b: 12). By May, Broken Journey went into production at Shepherd’s Bush using mounds of artificial snow that was more biddable and less likely to melt under the harsh glare of the studio’s electric lights (KW, 8 May: 20). That these lights were up and running again demonstrates that the power situation in the studios had returned to something approaching normality.  The mobile generators acquired so quickly and at such cost as stop-gap sources of electricity could be put to use for location shooting.

Broken Journey (1948)

References

KW Kinematograph Weekly. All uncredited newspaper articles 1947. 

P. G. B., ‘Studio news and views’, Kinematograph Weekly, 13 February 1947: 14-5. 

P. G. Baker, ‘Quarterly studio survey’, Kinematograph Weekly – British studio section supplement, 3 April 1947: iv-v, x, xxiii.

Edgar Craven, ‘Shows and showfolk’, Yorkshire Evening Post, 22 February 1947: 3

Richard Farmer, ‘All Work and No Play: British Leisure Culture and the 1947 Fuel Crisis’, Journal of Contemporary History, 27:1 (2013): 22-43.

John Huntley, ‘Juice! The motive power of the industry’, Film Industry, August 1947: 4-5, 22.

David Kynaston, Austerity Britain, 1945-51 (London: Bloomsbury, 2007).

Alex J. Robertson, The Bleak Midwinter, 1947 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987).

Leonard Wallace (1947a), ‘In British studios’, Kinematograph Weekly, 24 April 1947: 17-8.

Leonard Wallace (1947b), ‘Studio news and views’, Kinematograph Weekly, 1 May 1947: 12-3.

Wardour, ‘Screen topics’, Leicester Evening Mail, 10 February 1947: 4. 

A State of ‘Agreeable Disorder’: Temporary Film Studios in Post-war Italy

By Catherine O’Rawe

In January 1946 the Italian film magazine Star, in a response to a reader’s request for information on how to contact the country’s major studio, Cinecittà, advised him: 

It’s pointless to address your letter to Cinecittà. The celluloid metropolis has temporarily concluded its proud career with an act of true public usefulness: hosting thousands of refugees. […] Today’s Italian films are being shot in the strangest of places: cellars, sacristies, attics (Anon. 1946a: 6).

As the anonymous author noted, Cinecittà had been requisitioned by the Allied forces since 1944; it would not resume production until late 1947, and its hosting of refugees and prisoners of war has been documented by Steimatsky (2009 and 2020). Other studios such as Tirrenia in Tuscany, and Titanus-Farnesina in Rome were also under Allied control; Titanus would resume production in mid-1946, Tirrenia not until 1949 (see Anon. 1946b).

Much has been written about the globally influential movement of post-war Italian neorealism as an ideological rejection of the space of the film studio, in favour of a more authentic engagement with space and place, as part of Italy’s post-fascist ‘rebirth’. However, the reality is more complex: firstly, some of the films considered as canonically neorealist were shot partly in studios, such as Vittorio De Sica’s Sciuscià/Shoeshine(1946) and Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (1948), both filmed at Safa-Palatino studios. Secondly, it was contingency that forced this opening up to location shooting, which was also happening in other countries, as reported in Richard Farmer’s blog post on Britain. While there was a greater incorporation of location shooting, favoured of course by Italy’s mild climate, Italian producers and directors resorted to a variety of expedients for shooting interior scenes in this period, creating what film critic Italo Dragosei referred to in November 1945 as conditions of ‘grazioso disordine’ (Dragosei 1945). Dragosei went on to compare the somewhat chaotic contemporary production panorama to Italy’s wartime black market economy, when ‘you would go into a fabric shop and find soles for shoes, the barber was selling cigarettes, the tobacco shop sold shoes, and the milkman fruit.’ This reminder of the precarious material conditions in which Italy found itself at the end of the war serves to frame the following brief discussion of some of the ways in which productions used or repurposed existing spaces for shooting. It is backed up by former production director Clemente Fracassi, active in the period, who remembers a type of guerrilla filming: ‘since we were going round shooting you had to strike agreements to shoot in particular places, get permits, set up an electric current, almost like thieves, since the Allies were using the electricity to power hospitals and schools, and there were no generators, and hardly any electric light in most cities’ (in Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma 1979: 166).

Probably the most celebrated Italian film of the period, Rossellini’s Roma città aperta/Rome Open City, was shot in January 1945, when Rome had been liberated by the Allies but while the war was ongoing. While the film is widely known for its use of the working-class areas of Rome, most of the interiors were shot in a makeshift studio run by veteran producer Liborio Capitani. Capitani’s ‘studio’, on Via degli Avignonesi in the centre of Rome, was in reality a basement hall which has been variously described as a former horse or dog-racing track, or as a betting shop (see Forgacs 2000). 

Director Roberto Rossellini with screenwriter Sergio Amidei in Capitani studio during shooting of Rome Open City.

Many myths have grown up around the shooting of Rossellini’s film, but it is clear from contemporaneous accounts that it was a challenging process, due partly to the need to shoot at night because of electricity shortages. The space, like most buildings in Rome in that winter with little electricity and heating available, was also freezing cold. Vito Annicchiarico, the child actor who played the son of Anna Magnani in the film recalls the studio’s ‘downtrodden air’ (in Ramogida 2016: 33), and notes that it was located next to a brothel frequented by Allied soldiers, which became part of the film’s ribald legend. Dragosei, on his visit to the studio, noted that the door was opened by a maid, and that the empty space contained only a couple of spotlights to indicate that it was being used for film shoots.

A glimpse of the austere shooting space during filming of Rome Open City.

Cinematographer Aldo Tonti, although he did not work on Rossellini’s film, discussed it in his memoir, noting how the low voltage allowed by electricity companies was inadequate for film production, and Italians would respond by jamming the meters manually (Tonti 1964: 103). Tonti also remembered how the ACI studios in Rome had only two soundstages at that time, both of which were being used for shooting. There was not enough electricity for both films, so the productions had to take turns to shoot with look-outs announcing when the other had finished! (ibid.).

Makeshift and run-down as it was, Capitani was at least recorded as a film studio: in a 1948 MGM survey of film production facilities in Italy, it is listed in the lowest class of studio, as having no soundproofing and ‘some lighting equipment’. Many of the other spaces used for shooting at this time could not be described as studios at all; Dragosei (1945) notes the proliferation of ‘primitive and improvised studios, in the same vein as everything else on the Italian peninsula’. Among these we can count the gym in Bari in southern Italy converted into a sound stage for the film L’amante del male/The Lover of Evil (Bianchi Montero, 1946), or in Turin, a gym that was repurposed by director Alberto Lattuada for his noir neorealist classic Il bandito/The Bandit in the same year. Aldo Tonti, the director of photography on Lattuada’s film, complained (1964: 113) about the lack of soundproofing in the gym, with noises constantly coming in from the street, while it was also impossible to keep the daylight out. 

Problems were also caused in many of these buildings by lack of adequate space, not least for the many electrical cables required. A correspondent from the magazine Film d’oggi visited the shoot of the Resistance film Il sole sorge ancora/Outcry, being directed by Aldo Vergano in December 1945; shooting was taking place in a real Milanese brothel, transformed by production director Giacinto Solito into a studio, and the journalist immediately noted the cables snaking dangerously up and down the stairs ‘like snakes’ and the blinding glare of lights everywhere in the small space (Anon. 1945). Shooting was also disrupted during the journalist’s visit, comically, by the arrival of real patrons of the brothel, something that is apocryphally related about Rome Open City as well.

Rogue cables also proved problematic on the set of the comedy Che distinta famiglia!/What a Distinguished Family, shot in August 1945 in the former MGM dubbing studio in Rome. It seems that this small studio, formerly used by MGM only for post-synchronization work, was now being used for shooting, due to the absence of viable alternatives. The journalist visiting the set for Film d’oggi reports that the actors gather around the ‘improvised bar’ upstairs (no staff canteen here!), and notes that while the actors consume only cappuccino and pastries, they look on enviously as a visiting producer enjoys savoury supplì in front of them (Guerrini 1945a). Meanwhile downstairs, director of photography Anchise Brizzi trips over a cable and falls to the floor, cursing the lack of space.

Actors and director play rock, paper, scissors during a break in shooting in the cramped space of the former MGM dubbing studio (Film d’oggi, August 1945, p. 5).

Resourcefulness, like the black market, was everywhere: in May 1946, Giorgio Ferroni’s Pian delle Stelle, funded by the Italian National Partisans’ Association, managed to construct two sound stages in the town of Belluno in the Dolomites, complete with soundproofing and electric current (La cinematografia italiana, 11-18 May 1946, p. 12). While some of these expedients are attributed to the need for realism, others are admitted to be due to the need for cost-cutting: on his visit to the set of the film Veglia nella notte/Vigil in the Night, being shot in December 1945 in the old army barracks on Via Asiago in Rome, film journalist Tito Guerrini is scathing about the corners being cut in order to film on a tiny budget of 10 million lire, and calls the impromptu studio ‘a hut’ (Guerrini 1945b). It seems that filming was happening everywhere in this chaotic period: rather than build nightclub sets, it was presumably easier to go and film there, as was the case with Rossellini’s Paisà/Paisan (1946), and Ferroni’s Tombolo, paradiso nero/Tombolo (1947). Castles were employed (the Castello degli Odescalchi used in Aquila nera/The Black Eagle (Freda, 1946), or authentic artists’ studios on Via Margutta in Rome (Le modelle di via Margutta/The Models of Via Margutta, Scotese, 1945). 

Although my focus has been here on the immediate post-war period, even before the liberation of Rome, shooting was happening in ad hoc spaces, following the occupation of Cinecittà by the Germans in September 1943. In March 1944, director Vittorio De Sica asked by the Vatican to make the religious drama La porta del cielo/The Gates of Heaven. He agreed, mainly as a way to avoid being sent to Venice where filmmaking was taking place in the Fascist Republic. The film was thus shot during the German occupation of Rome, partly in the cellars of the church of San Bellarmino in the upmarket Parioli district, and partly in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The long-drawn-out shoot, which included hundreds of extras, caused many problems, and the lack of proper facilities for cast and crew was a glaring one. De Sica recalled how he was perched on a crane trying to get a shot, all the time unaware that extras were relieving themselves in the confessionals! (De Sica 2004: 88).

Outside of Rome, a fascinating centre of production in the immediate post-war period was Naples, which saw the emergence of what became known as the ‘filone napoletano’ or Neapolitan genre. These low-budget films in a melodramatic and sentimental vein, specifically targeted at southern audiences, by the 1950s were being shot in Roman studios. However, as Gaudiosi (2019: 37) argues about the immediate post-war period in Naples: ‘many films had budgets of round about the derisory amount of 40 million lire, and tended to avoid studios, using very small crews’. Very little is known about these localised filming experiences, but it is to be hoped that information may yet emerge from the Italian archives, which would help to complicate and enrich the critical picture of post-war Italian film; the opposition between location shooting and studio shooting is not really tenable in the immediate post-war period, which is instead, as we have seen, marked by a strong tendency towards hybrid and precarious filming practices.

References

Anon. (1945). ‘Dappertutto Il sole sorge ancora. Ma non in certe case di Via S. Pietro all’Orto’, in Film d’oggi, 15 December, p. 4.

Anon. (1946a). ‘Servizio Lampo’, in Star, 12 January, p. 6.

Anon. (1946b). ‘La situazione degli stabilimenti di Cinecittà e Tirrenia’, in La cinematografia illustrata, 11-18 May, p. 5.

Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma (ed.) (1979). La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930/70. Rome: Napoleone. 

De Sica, Vittorio (2004). La porta del cielo. Memorie 1901-1952. Cava de’ Tirreni: Avagliano.

Dragosei, Italo (1945). ‘Cinema senza Cinecittà’, in Star, 17 November, p. 2.

Gaudiosi, Massimiliano (2019). ‘Cantate con noi: canzoni, pubblico e censura nel filone napoletano’, in L’Avventura, 1, 35-48.

Guerrini, Tito (1945a). ‘A Roma si gira negli stabilimenti della “Metro”’, in Film d’oggi, 4 August, p. 5.

Guerrini, Tito (1945b). ‘Si gira Veglia nella notte fra litigi e disavventure’, in Film d’oggi, 8 December, p. 9.

Ramogida, Simonetta (2016). Roma città aperta. Vito Annicchiarico il piccolo Marcello racconta il set con Anna Magnani Aldo Fabrizi Roberto Rossellini. Rome: Gangemi.

Steimatksy, Noa (2009). ‘The Cinecittà Refugee Camp, 1944-1950′, in October, 128, 22-50.

Steimatksy, Noa (2020). ‘Backlots of the World War. Cinecittà 1942-50′, in In the Studio: Visual Creation and its Material Environments, ed. Brian Jacobson. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, pp. 122-142.

Tonti, Aldo (1964). Odore di cinema. Florence: Vallecchi.

Studios in the Festive Season

As the nights draw in and 2021 approaches retirement, this STUDIOTEC bumper blog looks at how the festive season was acknowledged by film studios in Germany, France, Italy and Britain.

In Germany Seasons’ Greetings regularly appeared in film magazines listing a studio’s biggest films.   Here are two examples from 1930, illustrating the significance of Munich’s Emelka and Berlin’s Ufa in these New Year and Christmas greetings:

Christmas and New Year was a time to release new films, a tactic that continues to this day. In 1931, Karl Lamac’s Die Fledermaus premiered on Christmas Day across 36 German cities, as well as in Vienna and Copenhagen. Quite an undertaking, suggesting cinema as a popular draw for family outings after the Christmas Eve celebrations. 

Promoting Christmas with the stars has long been a diet for film fans around the world, a peek into their homes affording an opportunity for studios to promote the glamour of their major stars. An article entitled ‘Christmas in Hollywood’ – actually an account of Ernst Lubitsch’ career difficulties in America – includes this illustration of Ufa’s Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch, complete with a suitably large tree, Santa Claus and animals, perhaps two of which may be destined for the table…!

The same edition of the magazine ran an article on how to shoot winter scenes without snow. Who needs real snow anyway, when it can be made in the film studio, that workshop of artifice and illusion? Nikolaus Sandor’s 1929 patent application (DE 488567) claimed to create ‘snow landscapes’ and a 1950 patent from Grünzweig & Hartmann (DE 1611199) listed ‘artificial snow for film, stage and shop windows’. Striving to find the ideal form for winter decorations, Max C. Baumann (DE 643566, 1932), boasted the superiority of his invention over existing compounds which he cited as using cotton wool, ground gypsum, glass, mica, magnesia, starch and … asbestos. Wait a minute – did he really say asbestos?! 

The cinema side of film business was clearly hard at work on Christmas Day, but what about activity in the studios? A board memo from 1937 noted that operations at Babelsberg and Tempelhof would close at 13:00 on both 24 and 31 December and remain closed on 2 January 1938 (BArch R 109-I/1032a). Meeting records indicate that Ufa’s board often met on Christmas Eve, and were already back around the table by the 27th – clearly there was no time for slacking! Christmas Eve being more significant in Germany than Christmas Day, one might assume that board discussions were concluded promptly in order to get home in time for the night’s celebrations to begin – or perhaps for a quick Glühwein in the Babelsberg bar? 

In 1937 an allowance of RM 2,000 was granted for Christmas presents for the 700 children of workers at Babelsberg and Tempelhof, or a little under RM3 per child. 

Gifts which Santa duly handed out!

Other indications of how employees were treated show that Christmas bonuses (at least from 1934) were given to lower paid staff, carefully calibrated to take into account marital status and number of children. This was the arrangement for 1934:

StatusBonus
Single, with a monthly income of RM150 or lessRM20
Single, with a monthly income between RM150 and RM225RM30
Married with 1 child or married with no children with a monthly income of RM250 or less RM45
Married with 2 children with a monthly income of RM300 or lessRM60
Married with 3 children with a monthly income of RM300 or lessRM75

(BArch R 109-I/2420) 

Straining to turn the hands, who better to herald in the New Year than Emil Jannings, ready to welcome 1930, the year our STUDIOTEC project begins?

From the beginning of the 1930s, Christmas was an important feature of the French industry calendar. Cinema frontages were lavishly decorated, seasonal programmes announced, and the cinema press was full of signed photographs of stars sending festive wishes to their public. The Christmas season was also a moment for studios and production houses to bring employees and their families together around the traditional Christmas tree. The biggest companies, like Pathé and Gaumont, would hold their events sometimes away from the studio workplace, usually in cinema halls belonging to their group. One such event for ‘children of employees and workers of the Joinville and Francoeur studio’ was held at the Lyon Pathé cinema in Paris on the 19th December 1937. After a show featuring puppets, clowns, and singers, the children were treated to a screening of colour cartoons and received individual gifts. The singing and dancing that took place around the tree in the foyer was of course captured for posterity by the cameras of Pathé-Journal

During wartime, such events had a more social purpose, offering some comfort to children whose fathers were either mobilised or at the front. From as early as December 1939, dedicated aid committees for mobilised soldiers, their wives and families (the ‘Comité central d’aide aux mobilisés du cinéma’ and the ‘Comité d’aide aux femmes de combattants’ chaired by the actress Françoise Rosay), arranged for a Christmas tree to be displayed in the premises of the magazine Cinémonde. But after the defeat of France in June 1940, Christmas events took on a more overtly political dimension. At Francoeur studios in December 1941, 700 children of absent fathers had to endure a speech by Georges Lamirand, the Vichy Minister for Youth. Under the patronage of the Pétainist weekly paper Jeunesse, and popular actors like Paulette Dubost, Pierre Larquey and Jean Tissier, the event served as a showcase for the promotion of Pétainist family values, and a public statement of the Vichy régime’s support for the children of French prisoners. Three days later, it was the turn of the Régent cinema in the affluent Neuilly district to host a children’s party, this time in the presence of Raoul Ploquin (the director of the Vichy organising committee for cinema, the COIC) and Dr Dietrich, head of the German propaganda services for the cinema. 

In spite of the economic and material hardships of the post-war years, the studios were quick to embrace their Christmas traditions again, and to host family events that were festive rather than political. On 6th January 1946, The Gaumont Buttes Chaumont studio organised a great party in the set of a film they were currently shooting (Jeux de femme by Maurice Cloche), and distributed cakes and other delicious treats to more than 100 children. But the wave of redundancies that hit the studios in 1947-48 put an end to this tradition, as film technicians lost their connection with a particular studio or production company.

In Italy, the jewel in the cinema production crown, Cinecittà, was often visited by dignitaries, and a 1953 clip from the Istituto Luce shows Undersecretary of State Teodoro Bubbio distributing Christmas gifts to children inside the studio. The newsreel emphasises how Cinecittà functioned as a kind of ambassador for both the Italian cinema industry and the for the state itself as generous benefactor. Popular Italian film stars were often recruited to appear at these philanthropic Christmas events, as if to remind ordinary people that the stars were not so distant after all: a 1952 Christmas dinner for the poor in Milan featured comic stars Walter Chiari and Nino Taranto providing festive cheer to the hundreds of children eating their free meal. 

The fact that the cinema is a space of festivity and joy is also shown by other charity Christmas events held in cinemas, such as a distribution of gifts to children of state employees in Rome’s Supercinema in 1953. 

Film magazines liked to do features on what the stars were doing for Christmas, picturing them at home with their Christmas trees and talking about the gifts they would like. And as a 1950 report in Film d’Oggi made clear, the Italian industry downed tools for several weeks in December, with stars departing for the Dolomites or Capri, and few remaining in Rome. However, the magazine ends the piece with a disapproving mention of rather rotund noted comic star Aldo Fabrizi, spotted out dancing at a nightclub at a Christmas party. Fabrizi, and the readers, are reminded that Christmas dinners can put on weight, so for the stars there is to be no respite from the pressures of the film industry, even during the festive season.

British studios also celebrated the festive season. In October 1946 Pinewood’s Music, Art and Drama group was preparing for their pantomime production of Cinderella, to be performed in one of the studio theatres’ smaller stages. Some interesting Pinewood employees were involved, including Geoff Woodward of the Art Department who wrote the script and lyrics, and a few years later worked as frame supervisor on several films produced using The Independent Frame, a time-saving production technique developed at Pinewood. The pantomime was produced by Adele Raymond, a casting director who had cast several of Powell and Pressburger’s films. Film publicist Lillana Wilkie played the Prince, in addition to assisting Valerie Turner in directing the pantomime, and production secretary Cynthia Frederick acted the part of Cinderella. The pantomime encouraged staff to try their hand at doing a job they were unfamiliar with: ‘Although many of the people taking part are “professionals”, it can truly be said that Cinderella is a show in the best tradition of amateur theatricals – as the distribution of parts and jobs has been so arranged that no professional takes part in his or her own professional field’. This would appear to be the case although the décor and costumes were by Bill Holmes, an assistant art director on In Which We Serve (1942), and draughtsman in the Art Department for Great Expectations (1946). The production was the most ambitious undertaking by the recently formed Group which had J. Arthur Rank as its President and D&P Studios’ managing director Spencer Reis as Vice-President. The Group had 100 members, or 10% of studio personnel, and as well as performances activities included gramophone recitals held fortnightly in one of the studio theatres when free and exhibitions of drawings in the picture gallery of the Club House. Members included well-known names such as musical director and composer Muir Mathieson; cinematographer Ronald Neame; art director Teddy Carrick, and film stars Deborah Kerr and Valerie Hobson.

The December 1946 issue of the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round studio magazine featured a Christmas cover credited to still photographer Charlie Trigg and others. 

The same issue reported that due to scheduling issues the ‘Pinewood Pantomeers’ had to put forward their performance by a week to the end of December. The shorter preparation time meant that ‘production had to be speeded up, rehearsal efforts doubled – and everybody put generally on their toes to get the show knocked into shape’. Even though the emphasis was primarily on fun and enjoyment, there was clearly more than a touch of professionalism evident when the ‘enthusiast’ ballet dancers were taken as part of their training for the pantomime see the Ballet Rambert perform Giselle. This outing clearly made an impact since in January 1947 during the ‘revelry’ of the Pinewood’s New Year’s Ball, ‘the Pinewood Ballet took the floor to give a repeat performance of their excerpt from the Pantomime, and earned unstinted applause’. The piano accompaniment was provided by Vivian Shaw of Cineguild’s Art Department, which he followed up with an impromptu selection during the band interval. The ballet was choreographed by sketch artist Ivor Beddoes. The pantomime’s audience consisted of members of the Music, Art and Drama Group, other Pinewood employees and their friends. Valerie Hobson and her mother attended, along with Spencer Reis and his wife. Illustrations were drawn of ‘Baron Nobubble’, played by Bill Holmes, and ‘The Talking Picture’ on a wall by Phil Shipway (who had been second unit assistant director on Great Expectations). 

A report in the Kinematograph Weekly noted how working in a film studio was incorporated into the production: ‘No one in the studio escaped the wit in Geoffrey Woodward’s script, which this art department man made to follow a film business background. First crack was about studio manager Hector Coward and Cinderella’s turkey was naïvely labelled: “Shot by Rank”’. Below is a ‘behind-the-curtain’ shot of the cast and the audience in the ‘stalls’.

We have recovered other traces of how British studios celebrated the festive season, including a children’s parties at Shepperton in 1952 and 1953 that featured London Films’ managing director Harold Boxall as Santa who ‘stepped from a huge pillar-box in the centre of the stage’ and handing out presents after the show. 

And of course the season was celebrated at Denham Studios, as seen here when Scruffy, canine star of British studios as reported in a previous blog, partied in style to wish everyone a happy time and all the best for 2022, as do we all from STUDIOTEC!

References

Anon. ‘L’arbre de Noël des enfants du personnel des studios Pathé-Natan’, Le Reporter du studio, 1er janvier 1938, p.1.

Anon. ‘L’arbre de Noël des enfants de mobilisés du cinéma’, La Cinématographie française, n°1105, 6 janvier 1940, p.6.

Anon. ‘Sous la présidence de Georges Lamirand, Chef de la jeunesse, 700 gosses de prisonniers ont participé au Noël de Jeunesse’, Jeunesse, n°52, 28 décembre 1941, p.1.

Anon. ‘Un arbre de Noël aux studios des Buttes Chaumont’, La Cinématographie française, n°1140, 19 janvier 1946, p.10.

Film-Magazin, 22 December 1929, p. 9; 29 December 1929, p. 3.   

Kinematograph, 25 December 1928, p. 3; 24 December 1930, p. 6; 31 December 1930, p. 15; 18 Dec ember 1931, p. 2. 

Kinematograph Weekly, 9 January 1947, p. 26; 1 January 1953, p. 24; 31 December 1953, p. 15.

Licht-Bild-Bühne, ‘Der Weihnachtsmann bei den Ufa-Kindern’, 22 December 1939, p. 3.

Gianni Padoan, ‘Cinecittà e dintorni’, in Film d’Oggi, 20 December 1950, p. 2.

Pinewood Merry-Go-Round, October 1946, p. 16; November 1946, p. 16; December 1946, p. 16; January 1947, pp. 2, 8-9.

Locating studio workers: Notes on Italy’s gendered film labour

By Carla Mereu Keating

As our research on the British, French, German and Italian film studios progresses, the STUDIOTEC team have identified a range of empirical and historiographic resources which document working practices and networks of film production between 1930 and 1960. Approaching the specific question of film labour in Italy, a large body of scholarship has been available to us. The majority of previous studies have foregrounded the personal and professional trajectories of Italian ‘movie makers’, the so-called above-the-line, managerial and ‘creative’, figures such as directors, producers, screenwriters and stars. A more limited number of studies focus instead on the activities of the ‘movie workers’ who performed below-the-line, manual and clerical work. This latter field of research is particularly stimulating because of the way it challenges understandings of gender and class discrimination in the Italian film industry. 

Several primary and secondary sources are available, digitally or in archives, to those who wish to research historical aspects of the Italian film industry. The digital film and media libraries of the Museo Nazionale del Cinema and of the Fondazione Cineteca Nazionale – Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (CSC) are some of the platforms we used to investigate critical discourses in the specialised press, as well as aspects of production and distribution, advertising, and fandom. For the period 1930-60 one could also count on a number of print publications which aim to pass on memories of film production in Italy. Among them, Cinecittà anni trenta: parlano 116 protagonisti del secondo cinema italiano (1930-1943) (1979) (re-edited in 2021 in collaboration with the CSC) comprises three volumes of transcribed oral interviews recorded in the early 1970s with professionals who worked in the industry during (and after) the fascist dictatorship; the richly-illustrated volume La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930-70, also published in 1979, documents above and below-the-line work experiences over many years including through vivid photographs, as in these examples.

Set design workshop, Cinecittà, in La città del cinema

Development and printing laboratory, Cinecittà, in La città del cinema.

Both Cinecittà anni trenta and La città del cinema illustrate what has been remembered and celebrated about Italy’s film production culture as well as what has been left out of the frame, due to conscious or unconscious bias. Looking back at these records, it is also crucial to understand their influence on the formation of a particular historical knowledge, their production of filmmaking memories. As Katherine Groo has provocatively and convincingly argued, dominant regimes of film-historical thought remind us to engage with ‘a spectrum of approaches […] that does not save or salvage but instead acknowledges the permanent absences and “powers of the false”’ (2019: 8). They also remind historians to consider the boundaries of their own argument and their ethical obligations ‘to making visible and apparent the historicity of […] the processes of film historiography’ (9).  

Let’s take one example from the selection of interviews offered by La città del cinema. Of the 58 oral testimonies listed in the volume, only seven come from women, five of whom were actresses. Only the well-connected screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico (belonging to a family of renowned literary and artistic figures) and director Lina Wertmüller, whose work received high critical praise in the United States at the time (e.g., Seven Beauties 1977), were included in this selection (and Wertmüller’s is the shortest entry!). Among the thousands of movie makers and workers active in Italy between 1930 and 1970, only two were deemed ‘worthy’ of inclusion. 

Many established film histories do not acknowledge women’s varied careers and normalise male dominance in the Italian film industry, ignoring pioneering contributions to the field such as Cinzia Bellumori’s Le donne del cinema contro questo cinema (1972), a foundational enquiry into the conditions of the Italian female workforce in film production. Between the late 1960s and the early 1970s, Bellumori conducted a series of interviews with women screenwriters, producers, production directors, costume designers, assistant directors, (dubbing) actresses, script supervisors and workers in film stock development plants to unearth clear evidence of sexual discrimination and of a precarious working landscape.

Some academic studies published in recent years have been more receptive to the gendered relationships governing the film industry, offering a broader range of possible historical epistemologies to help us respond to the specificities of local and transnational studio practice. A growing body of feminist research re-addresses the massive contribution of women to the film and media industries, past and present (e.g., Gledhill and Knight 2015; Hill 2016; Smyth 2018; Liddy 2020; Bell 2021). Key publications for Italy include the path-breaking Non solo dive: Pioniere del cinema italiano (2008) on the pioneers of silent cinema edited by Monica Dall’Asta (coordinator with Jane Gaines of the Women Film Pioneers Project) and Dalila Missero’s research on film editing (2018), which retraces the experiences of Italian women working in a patriarchal environment by focusing on figures such as Ornella Micheli, a prolific genre feature film editor active between the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1980s.  

Existing related literature on Italy does not cover STUDIOTEC’s entire thirty-year timeframe. There is still abundant scope to investigate the characteristics of the Italian film studios’ workforce, engaging with the key questions raised by previous studies from a national but also from a comparative perspective. Beyond archival repositories more (or less) traditionally used to document the history of Italian film production, a variety of alternative resources, digitised and available online, have become, out of necessity during the pandemic, a foundation for research into exclusionary patterns of employment and gender segregation in the studios.

Under-explored sources have offered insights into the Italian hierarchical film industry, quantifying and locating women’s presence in the studios. To give just one example, let us briefly consider the demographic profile of the industry as it emerged from the population and industrial-commercial censuses conducted in Italy between 1931 and 1961 by the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). Among the many and various categories of workers registered by these statistical reports, there are shifting employment figures related to the macro-sector ‘industria dello spettacolo’ (an umbrella term for a wide range of cultural activities including cinema, theatre and sport in the performing arts/entertainment industry). These reports sometimes distinguish between the different branches of the entertainment sector, including the sub-sector ‘production, synchronization, film development and printing’ (this label also changes over the years). Here the film workforce is categorised nationally, regionally and by sex, and sometimes by age group and city provenance. I will discuss in more detail elsewhere how Italy’s film industry appears from these latter statistics, but they are important in so far as they help us quantify the contribution of male and female workers in the industry, including those whose labour has traditionally gone uncredited. These anonymous numerical figures present many limitations, one being that they do not tell us much about the professional mobility of this workforce (although they do reveal significant shifts in regional employment). They also lack data on salaries or any type of qualitative information which could shed light on workers’ day-to-day professional practice and help us understand how employment was impacted by (and impacted on) personal lives. In sum, these statistical data cannot provide insights into aspects of emotional labour that shaped women’s experiences in the film industry, such as those which emerge powerfully from the many case studies offered by Melanie Bell for Britain. 

In the attempt to reconsider or re-present women’s contribution to the Italian film industry, and in line with our specific focus on the studios, the spatial dimension of labour, that is to say the actual studio facilities where people worked (the laboratories, the offices, the stages, the workshops etc.), deserve special attention. Inspired by the work of British geographer Doreen Massey, I have begun asking: where did women work inside the studios? What can their workplace tell us about the quality of their occupation and their work routines? And what do women’s physical environments and spatial mobility within the studios tell us about their professional relationships with other members of the studio community, perhaps echoing their social status within the film industry more generally? Architectural plans, photographs taken on and off set and mediated representations of the studios provide additional evidence to corroborate some initial hypotheses.

Cines’ executives and clerical workers in La vita cinematografica, November 1930, p. 9.

In order to locate women’s physical and symbolic place in the industry it is necessary to find out first what were they hired to do. While many female workers remain invisible from the record, traces of their presence in the studios can be detected by following the trajectory of those whose work has been credited on screen, although often only by their surname, for example assistant directors Eugenia Handamir and Annalena Limentani, as seen in the opening credits of Paisà (1946).

The large filmographic datasets that Catherine O’Rawe and I are compiling, which collate opening credits of Italian (and Italian majority co-production) films produced and released in Italy between 1930 and 1960, is one of the tools at our disposal to interrogate structural inequalities in the film industry and their intimate connection with space and place.   

References

Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Roma. La città del cinema. Produzione e lavoro nel cinema italiano 1930/70, Roma: Napoleone, 1979.

Bell, Melanie. Movie Workers: The Women Who Made British Cinema. Urbana Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2021.

Bellumori, Cinzia. ‘Le donne del cinema contro questo cinema’, Bianco e nero, 1-2, 1972.

Dall’Asta, Monica (ed), Non solo dive. Pioniere del cinema muto. Bologna: Cineteca di Bologna, 2008.

Gledhill, Christine, and Julia Knight (eds). Doing Women Film History. Reframing Cinemas, Past and Future. Urbana Chicago and Springfield: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

Groo, Katherine. Bad Film Histories. Ethnography and the Early Archive. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019.

Hill, Erin. Never Done: A History of Women’s Work in Media Production. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2016.

Liddy, Susan (ed). Women in the International Film Industry: Policy, Practice and Power. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Missero, Dalila. ‘Titillating Cuts: Genealogies of Women Editors in Italian Cinema’. Feminist Media Histories, 4 (2018): 57–82.

Savio, Francesco. Cinecittà Anni Trenta. Parlano 116 protagonisti del secondo cinema italiano (1930-1943). Roma: Bulzoni, 1979.

Smyth, J. E., Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Britain’s temporary post-war studios

By Richard Farmer

In the years following the Second World War, Ealing Studios was going places. Its experiment in making films in Australia had got off to a successful start with The Overlanders (1946) and would continue for another four films over the next decade or so (Morgan 2012), whilst significant parts of Another Shore (1948) were filmed in Dublin, and Where No Vultures Fly (1951) and West of Zanzibar (1954) were both shot in Kenya. Whilst the use of international settings offered spectacle to British viewers, and perhaps made the films more attractive in international markets, other factors fed into Ealing’s decision to film away from its west London home. Most important of these was the acute shortage of production space in Britain in the years after 1945: studios that were damaged or requisitioned during the war took time to come back into use, and although the difficulties eased as the process of reconstruction progressed, companies like Ealing that were based at smaller studios could often find it difficult to produce more than one film at a time (Baker 1946: 299). Another legacy of the war was an increased use of realist aesthetics inspired by the ‘wartime wedding’ of documentary and commercial filmmaking (Shearman 1946). As Ealing producer Sidney Cole stated, filmmakers in the period enthusiastically took cameras and microphones into the streets and fields: ‘In all our films we are striving for authenticity, and we find that this can only be achieved by filming against a background of actual places’ (Liverpool Evening Post, 26 April 1950: 6).  

St Brendan’s RC Church Hall, Barra. Home to Ealing’s Mobile Studio Units during the filming of Whiskey Galore!

This led Ealing to adopt a more peripatetic approach to the films it made in the UK, producing some features on location whilst others were being made at the company’s studio. To facilitate a multi-site production schedule, and so make more efficient use of equipment and personnel, Ealing established a Mobile Studio Unit (MSU), which was responsible for fitting out temporary indoor production facilities away from the studio proper. These temporary studios allowed interiors to be shot whilst the unit was still on location, although they were essentially blank canvasses and so differed from the already furnished and decorated rooms in country houses that were also sometimes used to shoot interiors in this period (Kinematograph Weekly, 12 September 1946: 12). The use of makeshift studios reduced, although did not always entirely eliminate, use of the permanent studio and so freed up space which could then be used by other productions. The first studio that the MSU rigged up was on the Hebridean island of Barra for Whisky Galore! (1949), and others followed on the Wirral for The Magnet (1950), in Bermondsey for Pool of London (1951) and in the village of Crinan, on Scotland’s west coast, for The Maggie (1954). It was not only Ealing that adopted this approach, and Blue Scar (1949) and Chance of a Lifetime (1950), which both made extensive use of location shooting, also converted empty buildings – the Electric Theatre cinema in Port Talbot and an abandoned woollen mill in Stroud, respectively – into temporary studios. 

Jill Craigie directs Blue Scar at the temporary Electric Theatre studio, Port Talbot.

Temporary studios could be cheaper than hiring a permanent studio, and allowed ‘local colour’ to be used more economically as improvising an interior shooting space on location meant that filmmakers did not need to transport extras and local props to London. More importantly, they also allowed work to continue when periods of bad weather made exterior filming impossible. In the controlled environment of a well-equipped studio, wind, rain and sunshine could be turned on and off according to a precise timetable. This was, obviously, not possible on location, no matter how carefully climatic data was scrutinised during the development of a production schedule. Location shooting left filmmakers at the mercy of the elements, and unhelpful meteorological conditions could leave cast and crew at a loose end. The cost of such inactivity, noted Monja Danischewsky, associate producer at Ealing, was not purely financial, but could also bring about an ‘intangible loss to the film through the browned-offness of the unit. A frustrated, dispirited unit has its effect on the finished film’ (Danischewsky 1948: 6). The weather on Barra during the Ealing unit’s time on the island during late summer and early autumn of 1948 was said to have been ‘the worst … for over 20 years,’ but the temporary studio ensured that at least some work could be done every day (Falkirk Herald, 13 October 1948: 6; Honri 1950b: 7). Indeed, whilst it was possible to complete most of Whisky Galore’s interiors whilst on Barra, the weather was so hostile that Ealing’s studio manager Baynham Honri claimed that some additional exteriors had to be completed ‘in the sunny south’ after the crew had returned to London (Honri 1950a: 110). Poor weather also plagued location shooting for The Magnet in May 1950, ensuring that the temporary studio earned its keep.

Meticulous pre-planning was required to ensure that there was something for the unit to do come rain or shine. Scripts and production schedules were carefully prepared so as to balance exterior and interior photography, with a slight prioritisation of the former, as the latter could usually be shot in a permanent studio at a later date should the need arise. For The Magnet, alternative versions of the script were written, with the decision about which one to used being made in consultation with the weather forecast (Kinematograph Weekly, 1 June 1950: 21). Sometimes, as with Whisky Galore!, scripts had to be adapted on the hoof (Danischewsky 1948: 7).

Inside the temporary studio on Barra.

Although they were undoubtedly a useful resource to be able to call upon, temporary studios were challenging spaces to work in. Most were small, with lower ceilings than permanent studios. That said, with careful pre-planning and a degree of inventiveness, the limitations imposed by these cramped quarters could be overcome; the 49ft by 25ft studio built in St Brendan’s RC church Hall on Barra, for instance, proved capable of accommodating 50 people for the betrothal party seen in Whisky Galore!  Art directors were tasked with designing sets that could be erected within the limited confines of the temporary studio. For Ealing productions, these sets were pre-fabricated in sections at the carpenters’ shop at the permanent studio so as to facilitate transportation to, and ingress into, the temporary studio, which had much smaller doors than did the sound stages (Morahan 1951: 80). Additional sets were rushed up to Merseyside during the filming of The Magnet after poor weather prevented the taking of exteriors and the unit ran out of scenes to shoot using the sets it had initially taken with it (Kinematograph Weekly, 4 May 1950: 33).  

Soundproofing the temporary studio for The Magnet.

As they had not been designed specifically for film production, temporary studios needed to be adapted for that purpose. The raked floor of the Electric cinema in Port Talbot had to be levelled before filming could commence, although the wood used warped during the course of production making camera movement ‘practically impossible’ (Honri 1950a: 117). Soundproofing was a key consideration, and felt and slag-wool the most commonly used materials: on Barra, the remoteness of the location meant that these measures were usually sufficient – ‘there were no … heavy traffic noises to contend with and no railway for 50 miles in one direction and about 3,000 miles in the other’ – but in Port Talbot the sound of train whistles caused delays (Danischewsky 1949: 9; Honri 1950a: 117). 

Although temporary studios erected in built-up areas were generally able to make use of pre-existing power supplies, even if these needed to be supplemented on occasion, portable generators had to be taken to the more rural locations. Barra had yet to be electrified when the Whiskey Galore! unit arrived on the island, meaning that all the electricity used to produce the film was made using equipment and resources brought up from London – a lorry whose petrol engine drove a 24kw generator, and a trailer fitted with plant providing an additional 30kw: combined these gave 500 amperes, sufficient to power pretty much any combination of the unit’s 46 lights. At Crinan, a generator was mounted on a boat on the nearby canal (Kinematograph Weekly, 30 April 1953: 25). Electricity was, of course, a fire hazard and great care was taken to guard against the dangers it posed: soundproofing materials were treated so as to make them fire-retardant, whilst fire extinguishers were installed and doors were rehung so that they opened outwards.

Layout of Ealing’s temporary studio in Bermondsey, used in filming Pool of London.

In addition to acting as improvised sound stages, temporary studios also fulfilled other important functions. Temporary studios provided production offices and dressing rooms; sometimes these spaces were already in place – the Electric cinema’s old box-office became a make-up room – and sometimes they were erected using plywood brought from the studio (Kinematograph Weekly – British studios supplement, 24 June 1948: xxxiii). The warehouse on Marine Street in Bermondsey was initially rented for use as a catering facility after Ealing worked out that it would be cheaper to feed the Pool of London location unit using its own canteen than it would be to hire an external contractor. It was also used as a lock-up: rather than transporting equipment back to Ealing when it was not in use it could be stored securely close to where it was needed. Starting each day on location, rather than assembling at Ealing and driving the ten miles to Bermondsey, a journey that might take an hour, saved considerable amounts of time (Honri 1950b: 7). The Marine Street warehouse was also large enough to include a small theatre for viewing the day’s rushes, and it was easier to match shots when the cutting room and editor was in the same city as the camera. (Other studios had to make alternate arrangements: on Barra footage – which had to be sent back to London for processing – was watched in a makeshift theatre in another church hall, whilst for Blue Scar the rushes were viewed in a nearby cinema.)  

Many, if not all, of the buildings in which Britain’s post-war temporary studios were located have been pulled down, a fate they shared with many disused permanent studios. Yet whereas the former studios at Shepherd’s Bush, Cricklewood and Islington have been commemorated in street and building names, there are few physical traces, if any, to mark the locations of the temporary studios and the fleeting relationships they had with British film production. Rather, the legacy of these mayfly studios, which existed only briefly before vanishing, can be found in the films made within their walls, and in the ways they might encourage us to think differently about what we understand a film studio to be.

References

P. G. Baker (1946), ‘Annual studio survey’, Kinematograph Weekly, 19 December, pp. 250-1, 255, 299.

Monja Danischewsky (1948), ‘Water galore – in Barra’, Film Industry, 2 December, pp. 6-7, 18.

Monja Danischewsky (1949), ‘Remote location filming’, Kinematograph Weekly – British Studio Supplement, 30 June, p. 9.

Baynham Honri (1950a), ‘Technical requirements of a mobile studio unit for feature films’, Journal of the British Kinematograph Society, 16:4, p. 110.

Baynham Honri (1950b), ‘Ealing’s Bermondsey studio’, Kinematograph Weekly – British studio supplement, 9 November, p. 7.

M. J. Morahan (1951), ‘Modern trends in art direction’, British Kinematography, 18:3, pp. 76-83.

Steven Morgan (2012), ‘Ealing’s Australian adventure’, in Mark Duguid, Lee Freeman, Keith M. Johnston and Melanie Williams (eds), Ealing Revisited (London: BFI, 2012), pp. 165-74.

John Shearman (1946), ‘Wartime wedding’, Documentary News Letter, 6:4, p. 53.

The Pinewood Merry-Go-Round studio magazine

By Sarah Street

Film studios were communities of workers who established close bonds through the collective enterprise of film production. They employed many diverse occupations, including canteen employees, art directors, costume designers, hairdressers, secretaries, publicists, electricians, and carpenters. Establishing a sense of community was important, especially when working conditions could be pressured and intense, with each production throwing up new challenges, especially when working within tight budgets and time constraints. Surviving documentation on the social lives and activities of film studio employees is rare to find, even though we know that several British studios produced in-house magazines. One such example is the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round magazine, published by Independent Producers from August 1946 to December 1947. This publication provides a rare glimpse into how studio employees bonded through sports and social clubs, music and film groups, organising a Christmas pantomime, art exhibitions, sharing studio gossip and reports on particular issues of concern such as transport to work and long working hours. At a time when paper was still rationed, the magazine was rather lavishly produced, with a glossy colour cover design.

The first issue’s editorial declared the Pinewood Merry-Go-Round’s purpose as ‘an interesting, informative and amusing magazine for all Pinewood people, written and illustrated by them’. It stated further that: ‘Nothing will be included that is not of interest to Studio people themselves. It must be remembered however, that copies are bound to find their way into the hands of “outsiders”, so we must make every effort to do ourselves justice’. The magazine was posted free of charge to every member of the studios once a month, and the Acting Editor Joy Redmond, a film publicity director, called for contributions: ‘We need short stories, cartoons, details of any hobbies you have, technical articles that are of interest to us all; sketches, amusing incidents and bits of gossip that are always happening in the studios and hundreds of other items that will make the magazine representative of you all’. Redmond was succeeded as Editor in October 1946 by journalist Tom Moore who occupied the role for the magazine’s short lifetime. The magazine provided a ‘pass’ into the studio like no other, as captured by this cartoon printed in the first issue.

By November 1946 the magazine had established a clear role for itself, its success leading to a broadening of its scope, as noted in the editorial: ‘There can be few industries which call for greater team-work than ours. The more a film worker knows about the broad principles of the other man’s job and what he is trying to get at, the greater will be his own contribution to the general efficiency of his studio and ultimately, of course, to his own well-being’. Both unions and managers were represented, the former writing columns and reports on key issues such as poor transport links to and from the studio and working hours, while J. Arthur Rank’s involvement as President of the Music, Art and Drama Group reflected his enthusiasm for such activities and the magazine’s role in helping to spread knowledge about what everyone did in the studios. The transport issue rumbled on over several issues and was linked to the ‘very poor’ response to an appeal in October 1946 for those interested in forming a Social and Sports Club. The transport problem was blamed since employees were worried about getting home after Club events. Rank promised to secure better bus transport and appointed a Transport Minister ‘but the fact remains that the transport position is unsatisfactory’, and some employees were in favour of Rank building houses near Pinewood. One carpenter wrote a letter to the magazine on the subject. The journey to work took him two and a quarter to two and a half hours and the same time to get home: ‘Being on night shift I have to leave home at 5.30pm at the latest and do not get back until after 10am. At the most, I get in about 5 hours sleep. These travelling times are in normal weather conditions. With the present winter snow, I realise that I just could not make it, so stop away. I have hunted high and low for other accommodation nearer Pinewood, and during the past year even slept in a tent in the orchard by the gate. Is it any wonder that I arrive at work tired, sometimes (very often, in fact) late and lost time through being indisposed. Could not the studio provide somewhere for long-distance workers to sleep? It would repay them many times over in time saved. I am a keen sportsman and would wholeheartedly support the Sports Club, but cannot under the present conditions. I would like to add that I like my job and find D. & P. studios the best of them all – having tried the lot’. However others, particularly workers in the Art Department, opposed living very close to the studios. They were not impressed with the Hollywood model or living with the same people they worked with day in day out. A humorous poem captures something of the strong views and emotions involved in the housing issue.

Regular features included the Pinewood log and gossip section. One item reported: ‘The Fitting Room cat recently produced four kittens who considered the lathes, drills and milling machines ideal playthings. General relief is now felt by all in the Shop – the kittens have been distributed among less dangerous departments, with their tails intact!’ Another shared a welcome by-product of a recent production: ‘Anybody feeling that the English summer has let them down, can borrow tropical clothes and sit under the Bamboo trees that have been made for Black Narcissus. Rumour has it that the men working on these models have been nicknamed “The Bamboo-zle-ers!”’ Some employees were highlighted in special reports such as on Ben Goff, General Foreman of Messrs. Boots, engaged in construction work in the studios. Goff had been employed as a brick-layer foreman when Pinewood was being built in 1934. He was back at Pinewood in October 1946 supervising construction work with four colleagues who worked with him when the first bricks were laid in the studios. He recalled that the first brick was laid by Mrs Spencer Reis, wife of Charles Boot whose engineering and building company designed and constructed the studios following Boot’s purchase in May 1935 of extensive parkland and Heatherden Hall, a country mansion, located at Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. An early image shows the studios, Heatherden Hall and gardens shortly after operations had commenced.

In November 1946 veteran film producer Cecil Hepworth visited Pinewood and was shown around by an old friend. The report detailed how they discussed the export of British films, a topic the magazine reflected on by publishing choice quotations from American publications about the British films spearheading Rank’s post-war export drive. Technicians who had worked in the studios for a long time were applauded, such as Frank Ellis, 1st Camera Assistant on Green for Danger (1946), the first film to re-open the studios, who had worked on the first camera ever to turn at Pinewood. Before the studios were officially opened in 1935 an acoustic test was arranged by the Hon. Richard Norton, and Ellis came over from Elstree to assist. Another ‘old inhabitant’ of Pinewood was Robert ‘Reg’ J. Blackburn, Chief Electrician. Reg worked at Pinewood from the day the studios opened until they were closed during wartime. 

Pinewood’s social calendar included the Paint Shop’s outing to Southend in November 1946, and in July 1947 there was a joint Denham and Pinewood day trip to Margate. The party travelled in coaches and the attractions included lunch at ‘Dreamland’, tea and an all-star variety show in the evening. 

The magazine regularly reported sports and other competitive activities. The darts section of the Sports and Social Club had the biggest following. A competition held in May 1947 involved a stars’ team playing The News of the World’s visiting team. Cecil Parker threw the winning dart that won the competition for the stars. A report noted that the Pinewood ‘Sparks’ football team would be grateful for more support for their matches because when they played Denham’s ‘Sparks’ team on their home ground of the Pinewood lot in December 1946, there were only two supporters present. Denham fans were better represented, and they beat Pinewood by six goals to five. Pinewood’s team colours were white shirts with green cuffs and collars and the three pine trees of D&P’s trademark on the pocket. A British Film Industry Sports and Gala Day was held at Uxbridge RAF Stadium in September 1947. Ealing won overall, and the report noted ‘many exciting races’ took place. The runners-up were Technicolor, with Denham third, and Pinewood, one point behind, came fourth. A further note comments on the event’s convivial, social function: ‘The prevailing spirit of friendly rivalry encouraged competitors and spectators alike to meet and mix with colleagues from other studios’. 

Occasionally the magazine provides glimpses into the operations of other studios. An article on Marc Allégret, a French director who arrived in Pinewood straight from a French studio in January 1947 to direct Blanche Fury, is a case of particular interest to STUDIOTEC. He recalled how in France working hours were restricted owing to an acute shortage of electrical power. This meant increased night work when more power was available because of the drop in industrial and domestic consumption. Allégret compared current conditions in French studios with those prevailing at Pinewood. He observed how when faced with a ‘rain’ shot British electricians didn’t have to worry over the very real possibility of someone getting a severe shock should the water contact aged and worn cables that should have long since been scrapped. He also claimed that Pinewood’s floor units were not forced into inactivity by the acute shortage of equipment affecting studios in France. Another difference was lack of heating in French studios which meant cameramen were forced ‘to add insult to injury by making their shivering subjects suck ice cubes during “takes” in an effort to minimise fog caused by warm breath meeting frost-cold air’. Despite these problems Allégret noted that the French studios were still making good pictures, referencing the success in London of Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Allégret had worked in the UK previously on trick shots in the ‘flying carpet’ sequence in The Thief of Bagdad (1940). The report closed with an interesting comment on studio methods, and the exchange of ideas between workers and managers: ‘The equipment and material here has impressed him tremendously – but equally so did the men who use it and their methods. Soon after he arrived here Marc attended a meeting of the Studio Works Committee; he came out full of enthusiasm for what to him, was a new and thrilling departure in the business of picture making. In French Studios there exists no such system whereby the employee and employer can meet for the express purpose of exchanging ideas for the improvement of their industry. He has already written to France, urging them to adopt a similar system in studios over there. Perhaps this is the forerunner of the interchange of talent and ideas he so earnestly hopes to see develop between his country and ours’. This comment reflects the great instability in employment for French technicians in 1947-48 when there were mass redundancies. Workers were in discussions with unions, but the quick turnover of employment from studio to studio meant it was difficult to establish dialogue with managers in terms of improving working methods.

In December 1946 George Busby, production manager and assistant producer for The Archers reported on looking for locations in France and Italy. Busby went to Cinecittà when it was being used as a camp for displaced persons. He found the studios in Rome to be very well equipped ‘although the employment of tubular scaffolding for set building has only just been introduced. Hitherto wood has been in plentiful supply’. This was considerably later than in Britain, as reported in a previous blog on tubular scaffolding, and where there was a severe timber shortage in 1947. In Nice Busby considered the studios to be well-equipped, ‘with sets of a quality second to none’, and he witnessed the first colour film in the post-war period being processed in Agfacolor. In Paris, Busby visited Pathé and the old Paramount studios. Another issue featured an article by British matte painter and storyboard artist Ivor Beddoes on Arab films. Such incidents and reports opened-up the magazine’s content to international film news.

The magazine was well-produced, featuring cartoons by studio employees. One cartoon published in the October 1946 issue was titled ‘Pinewood Phantasmagoria!’ 

In the same issue ‘The Art Director’s Dilemma’ depicted a playful comment on perspective.

In December 1947 the last issue of the Pinewood-Merry-Go-Round was published. The reasons given were continuing paper shortages and the amount of time it took to produce each issue. In the context of continuing post-war austerity the editors decided to cease publication because: ‘We cannot argue that [the magazine] is really essential’. This verdict was not without regret since its purpose had helped to ‘create a good spirit all round’ the studios, and ‘we can look forward to its return when the crisis is over’. This didn’t happen, so the existing record cannot be compared with a later publication from Pinewood. For the years 1946-47 the magazine however provided many insights into what it felt like to work in a studio and how workers socialised outside of work hours. As well as documenting a wide range of activities the magazine had drawn attention to novel uses of Pinewood’s spaces such as an Art Exhibition staged in the South Corridor, and training for a forthcoming boxing tournament carried out in a marquee erected in the paddock area. The convivial tone of the publication reflects something of studio employees’ energy, enthusiasm and curiosity about each other’s lives and work in the shared enterprise of British filmmaking at a crucial time in its history.